Chambord Chateau
Buttes Chaumont Park

Making Travel Plans

Paris is a great home base for exploring Europe because of its central location. Belgium, England, the Netherlands, Switzerland and Germany are all within three hours by train. Italy, Spain, Ireland, Scotland, Portugal, the Scandinavian countries and Eastern Europe are within three hours by plane. Paris has seven train stations and two major airports (with a third a little further away that serves low cost airlines like Ryan Air). And while we would never discourage students from exploring nearby countries, don’t neglect some of the wonderful highlights within France that sometimes are missed by North American visitors (Lyon, Bordeaux, Rouen, Nantes, Lille, Strasbourg, Marseille and Nice among others).
Be sure to do some research about possible destinations. Ask friends and family, students you meet in Paris. Don’t overlook reading through various travel guides to get an idea of what might interest you and then learn about the various interesting activities available in the different cities. If you read French, le Guide du Routard is a good guide for traveling more cheaply. In English there is the Lonely Planet, Let’s Go, Rough Guide, Rick Steves, or Frommers.

General Tips

  • Travel early in the morning or late in the evening can be cheaper.
  • Avoid French holiday periods. Check out this site for French school vacation periods: http://vacances-scolaires.education
  • Keep an eye out for sales 3 to 5 weeks before your scheduled departure dates.

Train Travel

Try to book in advance for the best prices. For trains in France look for low price tickets called PREMS. Book your tickets directly online: https://en.oui.sncf/en/

Be aware that Paris has seven different train stations so take note of which one you’ll be leaving from! Typically, each train station serves a different region of France. Gare du Nord trains head North (Belgium, Amsterdam, England, Germany); Gare de Lyon heads toward Lyon (and on to Geneva, Switzerland and Italy) as well as to the South of France and Aix, Avignon, Marseille and Nice; Gare Montparnasse heads West toward Normandy, Brittany and Southwest toward Bordeaux, Biarritz and Toulouse and on to Spain; Gare de l’Est goes to the East, toward Reims, Nancy and Strasbourg and on to Zurich, Switzerland and Austria;  Gare d’Austerlitz serves the Southwest of France Bordeaux and Toulouse but doesn’t offer TGV trains so travel is a little slower from this station; Gare St. Lazare has become more of a suburban train station serving the Western suburbs and continuing as far as Normandy; Gare de Bercy is something of an annex to the nearby Gare de Lyon and serves some of the same regions, with destinations like Clermont Ferrand in the Auvergne region in central eastern France.

Flights from Paris

All the major international airlines fly into Paris. There are two main airports in Paris: Charles de Gaulle-Roissy (in the North and at the end of RER line B) and Orly (in the South and  without a direct train link).

Pay Attention to Currency!

When booking, especially if you book from non-French websites, be careful of the currency for buying the tickets. There’s a good chance, if you look for an English language website, that  you’ll be directed to a British website and prices won’t b e listed in Euros but rather in British Pounds (which may make the ticket prices look very attractive–until the prices are converted to Euros or Dollars!).

Likewise, be careful when purchasing airline tickets to consider all costs. French websites have fewer hidden costs than many American travel websites (they must include taxes and most extra costs (baggage, meals, etc.). More and more of the major airlines are offering “à la carte pricing” where you pay supplements for suitcases, meals, etc. so look carefully at prices.

Discount Airlines

Ryan Air, EasyJet, WOW, Norwegian, etc. sometimes offer very interesting prices. Be aware, however, that there can be some important inconveniences and sometimes some unexpected costs. Extra charges for bags and meals are very common. Sometimes paying by credit card is more expensive, there is typically a fee for sending (even by email) your ticket. Some of these airlines (notably Ryan Air) fly out of the third airport in the Paris region (Beauvais) which is not reached by public transportation, leaving the option of a taxi ride (minimum 50 euros) or taking their special bus (15-20 euros each way). Likewise, be aware that some of these flights may leave at 5 or 6 in the morning which, even if you’re flying out of one of the main airports will probably require a taxi ride as the métro system doesn’t start in the morning until 5:30.

Discount Rail Passes

For many years now there have been rail passes sold which enable mostly free travel on all trains for a defined period (1 week, 1 or 2 months, etc.). In some cases these passes must either be purchased from outside of Europe or only from within Paris. Pay close attention to requirements and limitations to make sure you obtain a pass that will offer you the best deal for your needs and your availability. Be aware that on high speed TGV trains you will likely still need to pay a reservation fee to insure that you have a seat on the train.

Rail Pass

Lists all your train options and information about the trains for all the different European countries.

Eurail

If you are planning on traveling (especially after your semester) you may find that Eurail is the best option. This train pass allows you to travel within 18 European Countries. They have various ticket deals: travel five days during a ten day period, ten days over a twenty day period, etc. Be aware that you likely will still need to buy a reservation for any TGV trains. Be sure to buy your the Eurail pass in the United States as it will be cheaper than in Europe.

Bus Travel

The European Union has, in recent years, mandated that all member countries open up commercial competition with the national train lines, including domestic and international bus service. A number of different companies have jumped into this opportunity and are offering interesting prices for bus trips between Paris and other major cities within France and across Europe. Usually the trips will be longer than when taking a train or plane but the prices can be much cheaper.

Eurolines

For travel within France and throughout Europe, you may be interested in purchasing a ticket through Eurolines.

Busabout

Busabout is designed for back-packers which makes it a great way to meet people, and a cheap way to get around—it may be more appropriate if you plan to do more traveling during the summer.